Every once in a while, powerful people come along and decide the Golden State is just too darned big. Then they try to do something about it.

In the 19th century, not long after California became a state, legislators and voters wanted to split us into two, a notion that’s never really gone away. A couple decades ago, the state Assembly tried to give voters another option — North California, Central California and South California. The proposal, and those decidedly uncreative names, went nowhere.

Conservatives have taken up the cause in the last few years, arguing that leftie regions like the Bay Area should be separated from those that lean to the right. Now, a wealthy conservative investor is trying to put a measure before voters that would split California into six states. He just might succeed — at getting the issue on the ballot, that is.

Here are some questions and answers about the the Six Californias plan and the potential for San Diego County to become part of the 51st state — or the 52nd, 53rd, 54th or 55th, depending on timing.

What’s the six-state proposal?

Image courtesy of California Legislative Analyst’s Office
Image courtesy of California Legislative Analyst’s Office

The Six Californias proposal would carve six states out of California: South California, West California, Central California, Silicon Valley, North California and Jefferson. The United States would change from 50 states to 55, and we’d all need to get new American flags.

The states would have a wide variety of populations, from fewer than 1 million in the state of Jefferson (several remote counties in the northern part of the state) to almost 12 million in “West California” (including L.A. County).

The U-T has a handy guide to the locations and populations of each proposed state.

Who’s behind this?

The proposal comes from Silicon Valley investor Tim Draper, who told the L.A. Times we’ve become “the worst managed state in the country.”

“We don’t feel close to Sacramento, but if we had a government here in San Francisco or in Oakland or somewhere around in Silicon Valley, we’d feel like, ‘Hey, that’s our government,’” he told a gathering in San Francisco, according to The New Yorker.

Why would we want six states?

The Six Californias website urges residents to consider the benefits of a big split: “A future where people are closer to their government. A future where regions we live in are able to raise each other up collectively. A future where competing with each other for the best job creation, education systems, and tax policy becomes the norm.”

It’s not clear what raising “each other up collectively” means. But the other goals reflect conservative philosophies of limited government and regulation-free competition.

The Six Californias website expects competition among multiple states would put pressure on housing and higher education, lowering the cost of both. Supporters also believe six states would promote a friendlier climate for business and prevent companies from fleeing the state. “In reality,” L.A. Times columnist George Skelton wrote, “jobs are increasing and state tax revenue is pouring into Sacramento beyond all projections.”

Does this ballot measure have a chance?

It’s too early to say if Draper will get enough signatures to put the measure on the ballot, although he told the L.A. Times that “it looks close.”

He has money to spend, reportedly dumping almost $2 million into the signature-gathering effort. The campaign needs about 808,000 signatures from registered California voters.

He must file signatures soon in order to be certified for the June 26 ballot deadline.

What happens if voters approve the six-state split?

Nothing, quite possibly.

If it passes, the proposal envisions that it would go to Congress by 2018. But a variety of legal roadblocks could stop it before it gets there.

Among the potential obstacles:

• Does the Democrat-dominated state Legislature have to get on board, or would a vote of the people be enough to make the state move toward splitsville?

• Can a state divide itself into separate parts?

It’s happened before, sort of, such as when Maine was carved out of Massachusetts and West Virginia split off from Virginia during the Civil War. But, as University of California at Davis law professor Vikram David Amar wrote on legal blog Justia, that might not be simple.

• Congress must approve the creation of new states. Amar asked: Why would Congress want to give grand new powers to California, giving it 11 percent of all senators (12 out of 110) instead of just 2 percent (two out of 100)?

Then again, if the GOP controls Congress, why wouldn’t it want to give itself more power by splitting up a Democratic stronghold and giving Republicans more influence?

• Can voters change the state Constitution on their own without getting the Legislature involved?

• What’s the president’s role in all this? Could a presidential veto kill the whole thing even if it gets past Congress?

• Would voters in the six individual states have to agree to join their states? Should voters in Central California, for example, be forced to become their own state if they don’t want to?

Is this an attempt to give the GOP more power?

Democrats control the state Legislature, both seats in the U.S. Senate and most California seats in the House of Representatives. Things would change drastically under the Six Californias proposal, and the GOP would presumably gain more power.

Why? Because the proposal would create six state legislatures and a total of 12 U.S. senators, two for each state.

According to The Washington Post, the proposal would create three very blue states (North California, Silicon Valley, West California) and three swing states, two of which have Republican tendencies.

San Diego County would be part of South California, which would lean a bit to the right based on party registration because it would include Orange County and the Inland Empire.

Supporters of the six-state split downplay the role of politics in their map-drawing. The Six Californias website says “the lines drawn were based on various statistics such as population, demographics, value systems, prominent industries, income levels, water issues, geography, and other considerations.”

What would six states mean for San Diego?

We’d probably be the odds-on favorite to become the capital of South California, since we’d be the largest city in the state. Then again, San Diego wouldn’t be geographically central in this new state, a potential issue that could come up regarding a capital’s location. (Sacramento isn’t geographically central either, but it became the capital when California’s population mainly lived in the northern part of the state.)

Policies for South California on just about every issue would probably be conservative because Republicans would have more influence in our new state. And our region would gain much more political power in the U.S. Senate: The 10.8 million of us in South California would share a pair of senators, whereas now California’s 38.3 million residents have just the two.

On the other hand, we’d have to deal with dicey issues regarding the legal and court system of the new state, the fate of our local state prison, access to water, the fate of state roads and highways, and much more.

We’d need our own flag too, plus our own state song (“San Diego Super Chargers“?), state bird, state motto, state insect (yes, California has one) and so on.

What’s the reaction been to the proposal?

A sampling of the naysayers:

• “Crazy,” said the L.A. Times’ Skelton.

• “Totally nutty,” said Democratic strategist Steve Maviglio.

• “A silly idea that deserves to die,” said the editorial page of the Merced Sun-Star. It noted the Central Valley would end up in the state of Central California, which “would have the lowest in per capita income in the U.S., replacing current bottom placeholder Mississippi.”

But the proposal has its supporters too:

• “We wouldn’t be driving business out with a stick; we would set up a business climate where they could prosper,” said Mark Baird, who’s working to create the state of Jefferson in Northern California.

• “I strongly favor it because I think at this point a message needs to be sent that the people of the state will be better served if they are in a smaller jurisdiction in which they can have more effective influence on what happens,” said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican who represents the area around Newport Beach.

• “A lot of the people in Northern California and parts of Oregon have decided that we are not on the same page as San Francisco and Portland and Los Angeles,” said Rep. Doug LaMalfa, a Republican representing the top right corner of Northern California. (There’s been talk of a conservative-minded state combining parts of Northern California and Oregon).

However, he said he thinks six states could be too many.

Who else is taking this plan seriously?

U-T San Diego for one.

It’s devoted many columns to the proposal, including a 2,800-word analysis published earlier this month (“Six Californias: The Same But Different”), another analysis (“Breaking Up State Not as Radical as It Sounds”) and yet another analysis (“Petition To Split Up California Could Begin a Needed Conversation”).

Last fall, the U-T editorial page declared “secessionist proponents are onto something.”

The U-T editorial page is not necessarily a strong indicator of public consensus. But as unlikely and bizarre as the proposal seems, the New Yorker suggested it might actually serve a purpose: “It may have appeal as an unusual thought experiment — one that might be useful for California.”

Randy Dotinga is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego. Please contact him directly at randydotinga@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/rdotinga

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